Taking effective notes isn’t easy. Not only is it hard jotting everything down (professors notoriously switch the PowerPoint slides way too soon), but when you revisit your notes to study, you’re usually met with a jumble of incomplete thoughts and no idea where to even jump in. Talk about stressful! We firmly believe that adopting solid note-taking techniques is the foundation for a successful semester, so check out the methods we think you’ll definitely want to try this year.
The Cornell Method
The Cornell Note-taking System is one of the most popular note-taking techniques as it’s quick to set up, easy to fill out, and simple to review when it’s time to study. You’ll just need to divide your paper into three sections — a “cue” column on the left side of your page, a “notes” column on the right, and a “summary” section at the bottom. Here’s a brief overview on how to use each section.
Notes column: This is where all of your lecture notes will live. As you’re following along in class, jot down any important facts, definitions, and any other useful information here.
Cue column: Use this section to jot down any questions and keywords that pertain to the information on the right. During your study session, you can quiz yourself by covering the notes column with a sheet of paper, and then try answering the questions and summarizing the keywords from the cue column. Or, if you’re just reviewing your notes, you can use the cue column to quickly find the exact section of your notes you want to study.
Summary: At the end of your lecture, briefly summarize the notes on the page using your own words.
Mind mapping is a great technique for visual learners as it shows how different ideas within a lesson are connected. Since it’s focused mostly on keywords and short sentences, you’ll also be able to stay focused on the lecture rather than frantically jotting down every last word.
Start your mind map by jotting down the main idea at the center of your page. As the lecture goes on, you’ll start branching this main idea out into different important themes. You can then branch out each theme to include keywords or short definitions that support each theme. Continue adding branches as necessary. Also, since this is a visual technique, feel free to embellish your notes with relevant images and sketches!
We’re all familiar with creating outlines for things like essays, but have you ever tried taking your notes in this manner? It’s a great way to keep the information structured in a way that makes sense. Start with the main idea, and then create an indentation beneath it with different subtopics. Then, you’ll indent again under each subtopic and provide any supporting information. We recommend keeping extra space beneath each main idea and subtopic in case you need to add more information later in the lecture.
Depending on the topic you’re learning, you may be able to break the information out into a chart. This is a great way to keep information organized, making studying and reviewing a whole lot easier. The best way to chart is by structuring your page into different columns labeled with relevant categories. For example, if you were studying the U.S. Presidents you could create columns for the president’s name, years served, political party, and so on. Similarly, for a topic like math, you can have columns for equations, their purpose, and examples.
Which one of these note-taking techniques is your favorite? Talk to us in the comments below.